Pearl Endures to Win Waterford Mod Nationals by Denise DuPont
Local Racer Wins on a Big Day for SK Modifieds
The 11th Annual Budweiser SK Nationals at Waterford Speedbowl (CT), had 27 shiny SK Modifieds lined up on the front stretch ready to race on the one-third mile asphalt oval track.
A field of shiny Modifieds started the race at Waterford, but not all ended the day in that same condition. (Jim DuPont Photos)
There were 11 caution periods interrupted the 150 laps of racing and few long stretches of green lap racing during the event. Because of this, midway through the race, officials started to make the cautions red/yellow to prevent from using up all the green racing laps.
While most drivers did not get what they ultimately wanted out of the afternoon, Jeff Pearl was not among that group. Pearl drove to win for himself, his family and his home track.
In racing, you are only as good as your last lap and Pearl will attest to this. Robbie Summers led for 101 laps in the 150-lap race, but the race was not to be his. Pearl took over at lap 148 and led for the two most important laps at the end to take the victory with the only Ford car in the field, a Mustang.
“Robbie Summers had a bad restart, so I went for it,” said Pearl. “I looked in the mirror, saw Matt Hirschman and knew I had good company around me. I just wanted to get
down to the bottom after I passed Robbie and I did. Matt wanted the outside and he went to the outside of me. We ran side by side. This is the biggest race that we have and I just beat a Tour guy.”
It is said that Jeff Pearl is one of the best on restarts at Waterford and that was the case in Sunday’s race.
“All I can say is in the past; we have done well on restarts,” said Pearl. “We try to gear our car and set it up for restarts. I would not say that we are always lucky, but our car and everything kind of works together well. Robbie has to be one of the best re-starters. He did not give me anything. He drove for everything that he had. We kind of did a little thing over there. I started to go, then backed out and then he went in it. I think that I was in high gear before him. Motor wise and car wise we are so equal, but it was enough. I sent the thing into the corner and it was either going to go right up into the track or it was going to work. I was kind of surprised myself that it worked.”
Pearl emerged from the 150 lap-race as its big winner.
During the last two laps of the race, Pearl and Hirschman drove side by side around the track. After leading over 100 laps, Summers’ tires had worn so his car was not as fast as the top two contenders. Frank Ruocco’s car was starting to show race wear and was not longer as strong as it was when it won last year’s. So when it came down to the end it was the Jeff-Matt show.
“I knew with Hirschman coming and he had fresh tires that he was going to be right there for the win. Once I got down and I got clear. I slowed the whole pack down because I did not want to push up off the line and have the guys pass me with fresher tires. I gave Matt the outside and he went to the outside. We raced hard for the last two laps. He was one of the first people that congratulated me and that was real special to me. I have watched him race on the tour, North/South race and all that. He is a great driver and to beat him and Robbie Summers is really special to me.”
Pearl proudly drove to keep that win for his hometown and track.
“It is great to be the local guy. I live 15 minutes down the road. I have been coming here since I Was a little kid. I have raced this race every year even the first year when it was a 200 lapper.”
Pearl drove a smart and clean race right down to the end and that didn’t go unnoticed by his competitors. Hirschman, Summers and Ruocco gave Jeff the big thumbs up as he took his victory lap. “Showtime” Jimmy Blewett came over and shared his sincere congratulations.
“We know when the big guys come in that they are more funded then the local guys. I work on my car every night of the week and weekends,” said Pearl. “We build out own bodies and we tried something different and we spent more time doing it. There is a lot more pride when we can beat the big guns. There are use to running 140 and 200 laps every weekend. We usually do not have the endurance that those guys have. They know how to save there tires and how to restart without burning theirs up. They know when not to race and then when to pass.”
There was a lot of experience among the drivers in the race. Pearl had a strategy and endurance to hand on and win the race in the end.
“The best that I had finished in this race in the past was second. Today we just drove smart. My car was a little bit loose and the other guys came with the fresh tires. I did not just pull over and give them the room. They went around me on the outside. After five laps I was able to catch up to them. Those two guys got together and took themselves out. We just played it smart the whole race.”
Things got wild towards the end of the race. A lap 135 caution would involve some of the lead cars. Coby checked up and went high in two. Ruocco who was ahead of Coby also checked up and was passed by Blewett. It then appeared that Coby hit Ruocco’s car, with Hirschman headed to the inside of Ruocco and Coby. Ruocco and Hirschman spun in turn three. Blewett was told to go to the rear for being involved in the accident. Not believing they were involved in the incident, the #5 team chose to park the car instead.
Rob Janovic, who had a good run going, was taken out of the race when going through the dirt to avoid incidents. This caused a rock to go through his radiator while the race was under caution.
Pearl was just behind the leaders when the mayhem broke out in front of him. He saw the cars leaning close on one another as they went into the first turn and knew that unless they spread out there was going to be major mayhem.
“This was not a point race for those guys. They were going to race their cars to win. They were leaning on each other. I do not think that anybody deliberately or purposely tried to wreck anybody. It is just you are racing for $5,000 and there are a hand full of
laps left, basically anything goes. If there are cars involved, the decision that they made to put the #5 car to the rear, either way it did not matter to me. I think that the track made the right decision because he had something to do with that even though he did not get take out. If you are involved you should all go tot the back.
“I started 17th and then got up to14th. Some one started to back up on the outside. I just did not want to chomp down on somebody because we still had 140 laps to go. So faded back to about 20th, and then it seemed like I had to race my butt off to get back to 17th spot.
“I asked where I was and they said 17th. And I thought that I had just passed five or six cars on the outside. And they said but you are still 17th. Then we got up to 14th again and then I fell back to 17th. The car just started coming to me. I think that once we burnt some of the fuel off, the car started to get faster. Then it started to get a little bit loose. I think that the #3 car was leaking oil at one time.
“I think I drove a smart race. Not being over aggressive and saving the tires. I am just happy to be here and happy that it is not an April Fool’s Day joke.”
HIRSCHMAN HAPPY WITH RUNNER-UP FINISH
Matt Hirschman raced to the front at the end of the race and took home a second place win in the Bud Modified National race, finishing at the end with a front left flat.
“That was fun racing and that was what we came here for,” said Hirschman. “We came here because we wanted to be competitive and have a chance to win. We wanted a chance to win and have fun. These SK cars are so much fun. This is only the third time I ever drove one. That was blast. I wish the Whelen Modified Tour was coming here. This is one of the best short tracks that we ever raced at. Congratulation to the winner, it is his day. He gave me room. He drove me clean and I drove him clean. That was sportsmanship racing there. That is the way racing should be and that is the way I grew up racing. If I can come back next year, I will because that was fun.”
Late in the race, things got pretty dicey in the outside groove, but Hirschman didn’t get nervous racing up there.
“We were going for the win at that point. We were going for it so we went up to the top. If it was not for the wreck 15 laps earlier we may have done better. We had to come in and put on an old right front tire. I just could not cut it on the top. I gave it my best effort.
“Without that wreck on the back stretch, the one with Ruocco and Blewett and whatever happened there, we may have been able to win or had a better chance of winning at that point. But coming from where we were at and concerning what happened out there today, I am happy with second. I am proud of my team and sponsors and I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity. If I can come back I will.”
Polesitter Jimmy Blewett had a rough day, but came to victory lane to congratulate Pearl.
Pearl (#71) and Matt Hirschman (#48) race out of the final turn to decide the winner.